The unfinished monument to Batman’s Treaty

Unfinished Monument to Batman's Treaty

Tom Nicholson's Unfinished monument to Batman's Treaty (2011-) is an ongoing public sculpture project engaging Batman's Treaty, its history and meanings. The work takes as its starting point Melbourne's first chimney, the chimney built for John Batman by William Buckley.

The central component of Unfinished monument is one A4 sheet of paper, a sheet of paper which functions as a monument plaque (see below). Melburnians are invited to attach these plaques to the chimneys in their own living rooms. In this way, the city's chimneys are gradually re-inscribed as commemorations of the city's first chimney, becoming parts of an ever-growing monument to the city's conflicted origins potentially as vast as the city itself. Unfinished monument grapples with the complex meanings of Batman's Treaty through the form of the hearth, implicating the Treaty and its ramifications in the most intimate and convivial spaces of our urban environment, our living rooms.

Please download the monument plaque so you can print it out and attach it to the chimney in your living room. It can be framed in an A4 document frame, or attached to your chimney unframed. Please encourage your friends, family, neighbours and workmates to do the same.

Copy of Message - by Tom Nicholson

What the project is:
The central component of Unfinished monument to Batman’s Treaty is one A4 sheet of paper, a sheet of paper which functions as a monument plaque (a pdf is attached). Tens of thousands of these paper plaques form a plinth-like stack at Federation Square, where they are handed out to Melbournians who are invited to attach them to the chimneys in their own living rooms (as in the jpeg attached). In this way, the city’s chimneys are gradually re-inscribed as commemorations of the city’s first chimney, becoming parts of an ever-growing monument, a monument to the city’s conflicted origins potentially as vast as the city itself. The monument is conceived, above all, through the hearth, implicating the Treaty and its complex ramifications in the most intimate and convivial spaces of our urban environment, our living rooms.

This process of distributing the paper plaques runs 7-21 November, as part of my contribution to an exhibition at Federation Square, the finallists exhibition for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture. During the course of this exhibition, I will be at Federation Square, handing out the paper plaques, from 9am to 6pm each day.

How you would be involved:
I am seeking participants to help with this process, to distribute the plaque as widely as possible. I am suggesting that people who are interested might be involved for 3-hour blocks, 9am-12noon, 12noon-3pm, or 3pm-6pm, but I would of course be grateful for any assistance with this project for any length of time according to what is possible in relation to all your other commitments.

It would also be great if you could pass on this email to anyone else you think might be interested in being involved in this project.

About the context of the Melbourne Prize itself:
This project relies on the generous participation of friends and colleagues, but begins in an unusual context, that of a finalists exhibition for a prize, for which the first prize is $60,000. In the event that the work is awarded a prize, the cash will go towards the construction costs of a project space in Brunswick, which will operate as a rent-free non-profit project space for experimental art projects and activism, run by a small collective of artists and activists. Regardless of the outcome of the prize, participants will receive a copy of a multiple created for the project, as a modest token of thanks.

If you would like to be involved and can book in a time slot that would suit you, or if you have any further questions about the project, please email me at

Tom Nicholson


See More at Unfinished Monument to Batman's Treaty

Melbourne's first chimney was built for John Batman by William Buckley in 1835. Buckley was a British convict who escaped from the short-lived penal colony established near present day Sorrento in 1803, and subsequently lived with the Wathaurung people around the Bellarine Peninsula for over 30 years.

Batman, a grazier living in Van Diemen's Land, travelled to the future site of Melbourne as leader of the entrepreneurial Port Philip Association.

He claimed to have signed a Treaty with the Wurundjeri people on 6 June 1835, exchanging 240,000 hectares of Wurundjeri land for trinkets and an annual tribute. When he heard about Batman's arrival at Port Philip Bay in July 1835, Buckley walked with several Wathaurung men and women to the camp that Batman had established at Indented Head, near present day Geelong.

Buckley then rejoined European society and for a time attempted to act as a mediator between Aboriginal communities around Port Philip Bay and settlers from Batman's Port Philip Association. As a trained bricklayer from his life in England before his conviction for theft, Buckley built the chimney for Batman's house, Melbourne's first permanent European dwelling. More

Two of the most vivid images of Buckley were produced many years after his death, coincidentally both in 1890. The first, a portrait by an unknown artist now held in the State Library of Victoria, was partly based on drawings of Buckley produced during his lifetime. The painting animalizes Buckley's features, possibly expressing the widespread antipathy with which settlers came to regard Buckley, as a European man with complicated loyalties.

A drawing by Tommy McRae remembers Buckley from the distance of 1890 in more affectionate terms. McRae's drawing shows Buckley and a group of Wathaurung men dancing perfectly in unison, figuring the memory of gathering and dancing - the rhythmic sounds of these remembered rituals - through the patterning of shapes across the picture. Buckley is shown smoking a pipe, his dancing immaculately in tune with his friends, only his height, white legs and top hat distinguishing him from his fellow dancers. McRae also places a British ship on the horizon, looming over the scene of dancing, a row of flags atop the ship's masts, a presence that laces the joyfulness of the dancing with Buckley with the foreboding of an invasion, the arrival of a new sovereign order.

John Batman was born in Parramatta, New South Wales in 1801. His father, William Batman (1765-1833), had been convicted of receiving stolen goods, and was transported to Sydney in 1797. In 1821, John Batman moved to Van Diemen's Land, where he became a successful grazier.

Batman attained some notoriety in Van Diemen's Land for his involvement in leading parties of Europeans who hunted down Aboriginal groups to capture or kill them. (The first time Batman led such a party, he famously captured an adolescent boy who was imprisoned in a farmhouse at Pitcairn and then escaped his European captors during the night by climbing up the inside of the farmhouse chimney).

In 1829, Batman led a party of men that discovered an Aboriginal gathering by following a column of smoke.

Batman described the events which then took place at the mountain near his farm, Ben Lomond: " ... in pursuit of the Aborigines who have been committing so many outrages in this district on Wednesday, I fell in with their tracks and followed them with the assistance of the Sydney Native Blacks. We proceeded in the same direction until we saw some smoke at a distance.

I immediately ordered the men to lay down. We could hear the Natives conversing distinctly. We then crept into a thick scrub and remained there until after sunset. We made towards them with the greatest caution and at about 11 o'clock P.M. we arrived within 21 paces of them.

The men were drawn up on the right by my orders intending to rush upon them. Unfortunately as the last man was coming up, he struck his musket against that of another party, which immediately alarmed the dogs. (I number about 40). They came directly at us. The Natives arose from the ground, and were in the act of running away into a thick scrub, when I ordered the men to fire upon them, which was done, and a rush by the party immediately followed.

We only captured that night one woman and a male child about two years old. The next morning we found one man very badly wounded in the ankle and knee. Shortly after we found another. Ten buckshot had entered his body.

He was alive but very bad. There were a great number of traces of Blood in various directions and we learnt from those we took that 10 men were wounded in the Body, which they gave us to understand were dead or would die. We shot 21 dogs and obtained a great number of spears, waddies, blankets, rugs, knives, a tomahawk, a shingle wrench.

On Friday morning we left the place for my farm with the two men, woman and child, but found it quite impossible that the two former could walk, and after trying them by every means in my power, for some time, found I could not get them on. I was obliged therefore to shoot them".

The two year old boy, Rolepana, who witnessed these two kin being shot by Batman, was subsequently adopted by Batman and was later brought by Batman to Melbourne, where he lived with Batman in his house, the city's first European dwelling. More